A bright idea
By Chad Ingram
Minden Hills Councillor Jeanne Anthon has suggested on more than one occasion the upper tier of Haliburton County should institute some kind of standardized approval framework for lower tier councils to use in the assessment of solar project proposals.
And she’s on to something.
2015, with an intake window for applications to the province’s FIT (feed-in-tariff) program, has seen a deluge of delegations to the county’s four lower-tier councils, with hopefuls coming before councillors seeking support resolutions for their proposed projects.
These have ranged from small, roof-mounted setups to a mammoth solar farm one company wanted to construct in Minden Hills.
While the ultimate decision on who gets the go-ahead lies with the province, applicants earn valuable points in the approval process by getting a support resolution from the local council.
Local councils, by contrast, have no established approval process, with councillors rather arbitrarily weighing the merits of projects on a case-by-case basis.
The current Minden Hills council has been fairly conservative when it comes to lending support for solar projects, and recently even rescinded a support resolution for one project that had been passed by the previous council.
It’s not that anyone opposes the concept of solar energy, but the county’s councillors are cognizant that the Highlands’ aesthetic beauty is one of the area’s greatest assets. To pervert a forested vista with a block of solar panels is bad for business.
Minden Hills is being pro-active on the issue, forming a renewable energy task force, but an approval framework from the upper tier would achieve consistency throughout the county.
Like the provincial approval process, such a framework could also use a points system, with points awarded for distance from roads and residences and for the scale of concealment efforts, such as vegetative buffers.
It could award points for what kind of revenue generation (if any) there would be for townships.
It could contain a maximum property size that approval motions would be passed for.
It could provide a valuable decision-making tool for local councillors and almost act as a guide for companies looking to set up shop in the municipality.
It could save councils and solar companies alike time and resources.